16 Heady Facts About Being John Malkovich
In 1999, writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze joined forces to make Being John Malkovich. The fantasy comedy told the story of a puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) who discovers a portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich (Malkovich as “himself”). Schwartz charges money to give others access to seeing life through Malkovich’s eyes, before growing frustrated once his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) falls for his business partner Maxine (Catherine Keener), who believes she has fallen for Malkovich. Here are some facts about the movie after I see you seeing me in court.
1. CHARLIE KAUFMAN COMBINED TWO IDEAS TO WRITE THE SCRIPT.
Kaufman wrote the script in 1994, after his time writing for Chris Elliott’s Fox sitcom Get a Life. The script got him more work writing for television, but studios didn’t know what to do with it. Used to working with a writing partner, Kaufman decided to collaborate with himself, and married two seemingly disparate ideas he had into the same script. One was a man falling for a woman who wasn’t his wife, and the other was someone finding a portal into John Malkovich’s head. In 1996, Spike Jonze read the script.
2. KAUFMAN SAYS JOHN MALKOVICH WAS THE ONLY CHOICE TO PLAY THE TITLE ACTOR.
“That’s what I thought was funny,” Kaufman told Vulture. “It wouldn’t have worked, in my mind, with anyone else.” He partially picked Malkovich because of how funny the name sounds when you repeat it.
3. FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA HELPED GET THE SCRIPT TO MALKOVICH.
Francis Ford Coppola—who is Jonze’s former father-in-law (Jonze and Sofia Coppola were married from 1999 to 2003)—called Malkovich on Jonze’s behalf. When he first read the script, Malkovich wondered if he had somehow wronged Kaufman in the past (the two had never met.) Before agreeing, Malkovich told Kaufman he wouldn’t mind producing or directing the project, but thought he should find a different actor.
4. NEW LINE CINEMA WANTED A DIFFERENT ACTOR.
The studio dropped the project the day after chairman Robert Shaye asked the producers of the film—which included R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe—why the movie couldn’t be Being Tom Cruise. Funnily enough, John Malkovich’s first question was also why it wasn’t Cruise.
5. CAMERON DIAZ AND SPIKE JONZE HAD AN ODD FIRST MEETING.
6. THE CREW DIDN’T RECOGNIZE DIAZ AS LOTTE.
Kaufman hadn’t described Lotte (or Maxine)’s looks in his script, so it was up to Jonze. The director took pictures of people he met on the street and worked with Diaz to find her look. When she was dressed up in character and talked to some members of the crew, they thought she was a stranger.
7. JOHN CUSACK FOUND THE SCRIPT BECAUSE HE ASKED FOR AN INSANE ONE.
He asked William Morris to give him “the craziest, most unproducable script you can find." When Cusack finished reading the Malkovich script, he wanted in immediately.
8. THEY FOUND DR. LESTER ON A LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW.
Actor Orson Bean had been working on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman for years, but wasn’t a well-known name. After spending a long time trying to find the right actor for Dr. Lester, a producer saw Bean as a guest on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder and requested he audition.
9. CATHERINE KEENER DIDN’T LIKE HER OWN CHARACTER.
“I wasn’t who I saw for the part of Maxine," Keener told The New York Times. "She was sexy and bold, and I didn’t really like her." The actress earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
10. MALKOVICH ENCOURAGED KAUFMAN AND JONZE TO HEIGHTEN THE SATIRE.
"I said: 'Turn it up.' Who better to make fun of yourself—your impotence, your vanity, your ridiculousness—and say it's O.K.? I am ridiculous—I mean, I am a celebrity. It's sort of like human sacrifice. To offer yourself up as a subject of ridicule and scorn to make a point about the society we live in, which has this celebrity obsession.''
11. CHARLIE SHEEN WAS NOT KAUFMAN’S CHOICE FOR MALKOVICH’S SHOWBIZ FRIEND.
12. KAUFMAN SET A SCENE DURING A RICHARD III RUN-THROUGH ON PURPOSE.
“I liked the idea that Malkovich would have to rehearse in a hump,” Kaufman told Salon in 1999.
13. DAVID FINCHER MADE AN UNCREDITED CAMEO.
The director of Fight Club and The Social Network portrayed Christopher Bing, the fictitious national arts critic for the Los Angeles Times, who talks about Malkovich’s puppeteering in the documentary. Other cameos include Sean Penn and Fight Club actor Brad Pitt. Jonze also took a turn in front of the camera as Derek Mantini’s assistant.
14. THE BEER CAN TOSS WAS NAILED ON THE FIRST TRY.
Contradicting Jonze’s recollection of the incident on the DVD commentary, Malkovich explained that Jonze doubted anyone could hit Malkovich in the head that late at night from a passing car. “70 or 80 sets of hands shot up on the crew saying they would like to try,” the actor recalled in a Reddit AMA. John Cusack’s writing partner was the lucky winner who got the opportunity, and hit Malkovich in the head on the first try. Jonze had said the culprit was an annoyed drunk extra.
15. THE ORIGINAL FINAL ACT OF THE FILM WAS MUCH DIFFERENT.
Instead of Craig making Malkovich a famous puppeteer, in the original script Craig announced to the world that he is the master puppeteer, and Malkovich is his puppet. He does a one-man show in Las Vegas. Mr. Flemmer (of Mertin-Flemmer) is actually the devil, and tries to convince Craig to get out of Malkovich’s mind so that he and his group can take over the world. When Craig and The Great Mantini, the world’s best puppeteer, challenge each other, Flemmer controls The Great Mantini’s Harry S. Truman puppet, which culminates in Flemmer raising the real Truman from the grave to tell the audience to vote for Mantini. A defeated Craig leaves the vessel, and Flemmer and company take over as Malkovich and have him rule the world. Craig and Lotte reunite, but it’s revealed that The Great Mantini is controlling him, and Flemmer is controlling The Great Mantini, and when Flemmer laughs, his throat looks like the tunnel to the vessel that goes into Malkovich. The closing credits would have been scored by the They Might Be Giants song "Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head."
While the writer and director agreed to this, Malkovich had his own guess and shared it with the press. "I think it's about acting—opening the door into the mind of someone else, and how, escaping your own mind for 15 minutes, you see the beauty and fascination and eroticism even in the most boring things. I think it's about the need to escape yourself for 15 minutes that everyone feels. But what it's really about is something more sinister. It's the idea that we now lead virtual lives. We live our joys and sorrows and foibles through the lives of public people. It's about the end of art. Because art has to take its cue from life.''